I enjoy watching the squirrels run through the trees in my backyard. Squirrels can damage trees by gnawing on them, but ours are so busy raiding bird feeders that I haven’t noticed anything out of the ordinary.
Bob Pierce is a fish and wildlife extension specialist at the University of Missouri. He says that squirrels have a variety of eating habits, but during the winter, those habits change as acorns and other nut crops are depleted. Sometimes the tree becomes a convenient snack.
“If it’s a young tree, they may gnaw at the base of the tree or the lower part of the trunk. They often cut off the tips of the growing shoots, which seems to be very good food for them during the winter, and is usually the point on the growing stem that they like to eat,” says Pierce. “It’s tender, it’s quite nutritious, and that’s the kind of damage that’s going to happen.”
Usually the damage is only cosmetic and the tree will be fine. Pierce says you have to decide if the gnawing squirrels are causing enough of a problem to do something about it. They love to chew on walnuts, pecans and other tree nuts, which can cause economic damage.
“I guess the question is how valuable are the trees you’re concerned about and whether or not you can tolerate any damage,” he says. “Some trees, of course, produce very valuable crops, whether they’re nut crops or ornamental trees, and you don’t want to put up with a lot of damage to those.”
You can offer the squirrels an alternate food source like corn. If that doesn’t work, other control methods include metal tree wraps, repellents, and traps. But keep in mind that squirrels can spend all day trying to outsmart you.
Pierce says the most permanent method of removing a prized tree is to obtain a squirrel hunting license.